Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 Year End Analytics

I hit a brick wall in September. I hardly posted this fall after 13 years of steady blogging. The desire to transmit is a desire to share with fellow truth-seekers and perchance to convince. But to me this has been a discouraging year for truth and hope in the world, the church, and elsewhere.

I may still self-publish my funniest and most annoying thoughts from 2017.


1. Unsurprisingly, my most trafficked posts were the same old ones:
  • Socrates' to know the good quote (2012)
  • Wesleyans and baptism (2011)
  • socially-constructed identity (2010)
  • sermon in shoes song (2012)
  • beware of thayer's (2014)
  • why William Jennings Bryan was opposed to evolution (2008)
  • famous empiricists (2008)
  • free wesleyan commentary online (2013)
2. Most popular from this year:
3. Most popular tweets of the year:
  • With 4759 impressions, a chart I tweeted on the dates when Confederate monuments were erected won the year.
  • In the first part of the year, a tweet suggesting that democracy requires an educated electorate received 2726 impressions.
4. Most popular YouTube videos:
  • Sounds of ancient Greek letters (11,186 views)
  • Connecting words in Hebrew (10,578 views, 71,851 minutes of watching)
  • Exegetical research (2,059)
  • Greek Participles (2286)
  • Greek Verb (4282)
  • Overall of Greek (1874)
  • Philosophy of history (2306)
  • Several Hebrew videos in the 2000s

Friday, December 29, 2017

Friday Science: The precise definition of a limit

Next week my revised physics/calculus/chemistry monthly plan kicks in. The end of the year goal is to plug a leak in my calculus videos--this one and one more.

The Precise Definition of a Limit

Gabriel's Diary: The Incarnation (first novella)

I don't know when I first started trying to write a novel. There was the superhero novel in college and seminary. There was the faith struggle novel after seminary. There was my version of The Matrix before The Matrix. I've started over 60 novels by now, but never finished one.

Till now.

Here's my first novella. 70 pages. Started it December 17. Finished it yesterday (Dec 28). Twelve days. It could be the first in several entries from Gabriel's Diary.

Here are a couple paragraphs to give you its strange flavor:

1. "I, Gabriel, am a five-dimensional being. Most angels are only four dimensional. They of course inhabit the three dimensions that humans can apprehend. Then there is a fourth dimension that is the essence of angelic being. The Jews used to call it the second heaven, the second sky. You would say it is not in your universe, yet it gives your universe a sense of time...

"In this universe God also has a time, but it is neither the time of the angels nor that of other creatures. All of human time is as a moment in the throne room, in the third sky. The throne room is the eternal now of the universe. God hides most of the future from the archangels when they are in the divine Presence. But Trinity sees all times at once. This is how God can both see the future and yet not cause it. God knows it because Trinity has seen it."

2. "We do not believe that a king is coming at all," said the high priest Simon, who was a Boethusian, a sect closely related to the Sadducees. "It is God’s will for you to reign, Herod, and for the temple to be the center of Israel.

"A king may come again one day to restore the kingdom to Israel," a Pharisee known as Hillel said to Herod, "but God will do it in his own time. If these men have heard from God, they will find what they are looking for, whether we help them or not. If they are not from God, then their search will yield nothing."

Paperback Version                          Kindle Version

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Schenck Family History

I did quite a bit of research here several years ago on my family tree. Tried a novel approach for a while as well. Feels like I should seal up that work somehow.

Let me try an outline to see if I can get going.

1. Ken Schenck

Twentieth Century
2. Lee and Helen Schenck
3. Dorsey and Esther Schenck
4. Harry and Verna Shepherd

Nineteenth Century
5. William and Jane Schenck
6. Samuel and Margaret Dorsey
7. David and Eva Miller
8. Samuel and Elizabeth Wise
9. Eli and Lucinda Shepherd
10. George and Sarah Rich
11. James and Mary Walls
12. Champion and Cassandra Shelburn

Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries
13. Jamestown - Thomas and Elizabeth Shelburne (1607)
14. New Amsterdam - Roelof and Neeltje Schenck (1650)
15. Pennsylvania - Solomon and Jane Shepherd (1730)
15. Maryland - Edward and Anne Darcy (1638)
16. Maryland - Johann and Susanna Mueller (1727)
17. Maryland - Franz and Maria Weiss (1750)
18. North Carolina - Jacob and Ann Rich (1700s)

Friday, December 22, 2017

Friday Science: Looking Back, Looking Forward

This one's going to be a little weird.

Another semester done. Did quite a bit of calculus, physics, and chemistry this fall helping Sophie and Tom with homework. Got some problems right, others wrong. However, Duolingo and work have crowded out my personal goals with math and science textbooks.

1. About 2010ish, my version of mid-life crisis was to finish some of the math and science I started in college before my call to ministry. Eventually I settled on three university texts to work through:
My initial hope was to get through these texts before I turned 50. That was a six or so year goal I didn't finish. Not even close.

2. In early 2010, I started uploading videos I had made to YouTube. Initially, YouTube wouldn't allow you to upload a video longer than 10 minutes. But in 2012 the limits were gone and I started uploading videos I'd made several years earlier, including this Greek one (that Greeks hate) with over 61,000 views and this algebra one with over 43,000 views.

My first math video was on implicit differentiation (chap 3, that's how far I'd gotten in Stewart by then doing a page a day) and my first physics one was on Work (chap. 6). Those early ones were pretty rough because I was just getting my head back into math and science. I'd have to go back and do the chapters I'd already read.

Today I recorded a calculus video on the Squeeze Theorem. I'm about two videos then from catching up with the second chapter the gap in my calculus videos. Still have a little to finish in the fourth chapter.

3. Well, still have about 60 chapters left. Here's a suggested schedule for next year, a chapter a month:
  • January, chap 11 of chemistry (intermolecular forces)
  • February, chap 13 of chemistry (solutions)
  • March, chap 14 of chemistry (kinetics)
  • April, chap 15 of chemistry (equilibrium)
  • May, chap 20 of chemistry (electrochemistry)
  • June, chap 17 of physics (Temperature)
  • July, chap 6 of calculus (applications of integration)
  • August, chap 18 of physics (Thermal properties of matter)
  • September, chap 5 of chemistry (thermochemistry)
  • October, chap 19 of physics (1st Law of Thermodynamics)
  • November, chap 7 of calculus (inverse functions)
  • December, chap 20 of physics (2nd Law of Thermodynamics)
4. By the way, here's a fictional picture I drew of the universe for fun.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Explanatory Notes on Romans

Here are all my notes on Romans.
I. Introduction
1. Romans 1:1-15

II.1 Who is Justified?
II.1.1 Humanity's Problem
2. Romans 1:16-17
3. Romans 1:18-32
4. Romans 2:1-3:20

II.1.2 God's Solution
5. Romans 3:21-31
6. Romans 4:1-5:11

II.2 What about Sin?
7. Romans 5:12-6:23
8. Romans 7:1-8:39

II.3 What about Israel?
9. Romans 9-11

III. Transformed Minds
10. Romans 12-13
11. Romans 14:1-15:13

IV. Conclusion
12. Romans 15:14-16:27

8. Concentrated Romans (7:1-8:39)

The last in the series.

Romans 7:1-8:39
A. The function of the Jewish Law (7:1-25)
  • 7:1-25. Romans 6 has addressed the question of sin. If we are not deemed right with God initially on the basis of our own righteousness, "Should we continue in sin that grace may abound?" Paul gives a resounding "no" to this question. 
  • Romans 7 then pursues the related question, "If we are not judged by the Jewish Law, what then was the purpose of the Law in the first place?"
  • 7:1-6. The reasoning of Paul in relation to the Law is difficult for us. It is not the way we think. Paul is not merely saying that I am no longer judged by the Law's standards. He is suggesting that Sin had power over a Jew somehow through the Law. The Jewish Law was a catalyst of Sin's power for a Jew or a Gentile for that matter.
  • He seems to be thinking about the core of the Jewish Law again here, as in Romans 2. This is the core that a Gentile or a Jew could keep in theory, which we find out in 13:8-10 is loving your neighbor as yourself.
  • 7:1-3. A wife is married to her husband as long as he is alive. If he dies, she can remarry. If Paul had been married and she left him when he believed on Christ, there could be a personal flashback here. In Palestine, it may not have been possible for a wife to divorce her husband, only to leave him. If so, that would make this illustration more effective than a husband being bound to a wife, at least to "those who know the Law" (7:1).
  • 7:4-6. So believers have died to the Law. Now we can marry Christ. We have died with Christ, as Paul said in 6:3-5 (cf. Gal. 2:20). We can rise with Christ to a new life that is not under the Law. Paul means that we can rise to bear fruit of righteousness in our life.
  • 7:5-6. Here we get another version of the "used to"/"but now." We saw this claim in 6:17-18, 6:19, and 6:20, 22. Paul's meaning there seems clear. You used to be slaves to the power of Sin, but now you are not. Now you are slaves to righteousness.
  • So here, when we were in the flesh, the passions of Sin, working through the Law, used to bear fruit associated with death. This is past tense for the believer. The power of Sin used the Law to make us sin even more.
  • But now, we have been "cancelled" from the Law, "discharged." Now believers serve God in the newness of the Spirit, which empowers us to live under a different power.
  • 7:7-12. In the next few verses, Paul clarifies that it is not the Law's fault. That is to say, the Law itself is not the problem. It served its purpose.
  • 7:7. For example, the Law tells a person what sin is. The Law says, "Do not covet." Jews thus know that coveting is wrong. This is the first function of the Law in Paul's argument.
  • E. P. Sanders in Paul pointed out that Paul intentionally picked the most internal of the commandments, the one that it is hardest to keep perfectly. Any other of the commandments could be kept perfectly, at least from an external point of view.
  • 7:8. In some way, human flesh is putty in the hands of Sin through the Law. The power of Sin takes advantage of Jews and Gentiles through the Law. Perhaps it is a little like a child told not to do something. He or she wants to do it even more. So the Law, when I am in the flesh, aggravates my sinfulness. This is a second effect of the Law in Paul's argument.
  • 7:9. Paul now seems to dramatize the life of a believer in relation to the Law in terms of the story of humanity and God's people. Some think he has Adam in mind here, but it is not at all clear.
  • So there was a time when humanity did not have the Law (cf. 5:13-14). In a way, there is a time in a believer's pilgrimage when he or she does not have the Law because they are not yet old enough to know it.
  • Then the Law was revealed to Moses. So in an individual Jew's life, there is a time when he or she learns the Law. The power of Sin comes alive and they die, as Adam did in the day that he sinned (cf. 5:12). However, Adam did not have the power of Sin over him when the commandment came, making it unlikely that Paul is thinking too much of Adam here.
  • 7:12. The bottom line is that the Law itself is holy, righteous, and good. A human, Jew or Gentile, by contrast, is a slave to Sin when he or she is in the flesh. The power of Sin, working by way of the Law, produces sin in a person.
  • 7:13-25. We now come to perhaps the most misunderstood verses in the whole Bible. Paul is still walking through the pilgrimage of an individual, especially a Jew but also a Gentile, in relation to Sin and the Law. He has covered the period of a person's life when they did not know the Law. Then he has spoken of the point where a person learns the Law and the power of Sin is accentuated.
  • In these verses he expands upon this phase of a person's pilgrimage before they become a believer and are empowered by the Holy Spirit to be freed from Sin (chap. 8). The last sentence of the chapter sums up this phase: "With my mind I serve the law of God but with my flesh the Law of Sin" (7:25b). This is only a phase of the pilgrimage, before the Spirit.
  • 7:13. Here we see the two functions of the Jewish Law. The Law tells me what sin is and it aggravates my sinfulness.
  • 7:14. The default state of a human is to be "fleshly, sold under Sin." The Law again in itself is spiritual.
  • 7:14-20. Here is the plight of the person who now knows the Law. This person has come to recognize that the Law is good, but without the Spirit he or she will find only failure. The good they now want to do, they will not be able to do.
  • Again, these are probably the most misunderstood verses in the Bible. Paul's words here so resonate with Christian experience that all of Romans 6, the beginning of chapter 7, and chapter 8 are thrown out the window and these words are taken to be the never-ending plight of the believer. But if Paul is talking of his present experience, then he is painting himself as a non-Christian in the terms of Romans 6 and 8, as well as the beginning of Romans 7.
  • In fact, Philippians 3 and the rest of Paul's letters do not give us the impression that Paul thought of himself as a moral failure even before he came to Christ. That is to say, it does not seem likely that Paul even felt this way before he believed on Christ. See Krister Stendahl, "Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West."
  • So Paul is dramatizing in these verses the plight of the person who recognizes the goodness of the Law as a standard but, being in the flesh and under the Law, he or she is not able to attain to that standard. The present tense is very flexible and does not in any way in itself imply this is Paul's current experience. Again, that would negate the entire immediate context.
  • 7:17-20. In stark contrast to Augustine, the "I" of the person in these verses actually wants to keep the Law. The problem is the flesh of the person. Augustine made the problem a matter of a corrupted will. This may be true theologically even if it is not what Paul was saying here.
  • "Sinful nature" is a bad translation given the baggage of this phrase. The word Paul consistently uses here is flesh. Flesh is my skin under the power of Sin. My mortal body is not sinful in itself. It is just weak. Under the power of Sin, there is no hope for me to resist sin with my body, even if my mind wants to. There is thus a certain dualism to Paul's language here.
  • 7:20. Sin is dwelling in me. That is, it has power over my body, my flesh.
  • 7:21-25a. Here we reach the climax of the conundrum for the person at this stage of their pilgrimage. They know the Law. They know its standard is good. But they cannot keep it because of the power of Sin over their flesh.
  • They delight in God's Law in their inner person, but there is another rule, another law in their physical members. It is warring against the law of God they understand with their mind.
  • 7:24. "Who will free me from this body of death?" Paul dramatically exclaims. Who will enable me to fulfill the righteous expectation of the Law? Who will free me from the power of Sin over my flesh that only leads to death?
  • 7:25a. "Thanks be to God! Through Jesus Christ our Lord!" Here is how we will be set free from the power of Sin and become slaves of righteousness, as in Romans 6. In fact, Paul made this same exclamation in 6:17. He has slowed down the sentiment of 6:16-18. You used to be slaves to sin, but thanks be to God, you are now slaves to righteousness.
B. Life in the Spirit (8:1-30)
  • 8:1-4. Now we cross the threshold. We believe. We are justified. We have peace with God (5:1). We receive the Holy Spirit. In 8:9 we will learn that a person is not in Christ if he or she does not have the Holy Spirit. In Romans 8, we have finally become Christians.
  • 8:1-2. There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus because the rule of the Spirit has set you free from the rule of Sin and death.
  • 8:3. The Law had no power to actually enable a person to keep it. So God did it through his Son. Jesus condemned sin in the flesh. 
  • Jesus came "in the likeness of the flesh of Sin." There is a hint here that Jesus himself did not have the power of Sin over his flesh.
  • 8:4. "That the righteous requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." This is not merely legal because it has to do with "walking," which is a matter of life and ethics. Paul is saying that the Spirit actually enables a person to keep the core of the Law, which again 13:8-10 suggests is loving one's neighbor. This is the Law that we do not nullify because of faith (3:31).
  • 8:5-8. Paul reviews the two ways of being he has been discussing for the last two chapters: the slave to Sin and the slave to righteousness.
  • 8:5-7. Those who are "according to the flesh" think in a fleshly way. Those who are "according to the Spirit" think in a spiritual way. The first leads to death. The second leads to life and peace. The mind of the flesh is an enemy of God. This person cannot submit to the Law of God.
  • 8:8. The bottom line and a classic holiness preaching text: "Those who are in the flesh cannot please God." Paul has moved beyond flesh as body or flesh as weak to flesh as "the body under the power of Sin," probably also including those who do not even serve God with their minds.
  • In Romans, Paul sets up a two state metaphor. You are either a slave to God or a slave to Sin. You are either fleshly or you are spiritual. 1 Corinthians complexifies this situation, for the Corinthians are initially sanctified (1 Cor. 1:2) and thus must have the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9). But they are still fleshly and carnal (1 Cor. 3:1). In real life, therefore, we find people who are justified but not fully sanctified. They are in the flesh. They are at least at times like the person of Romans 7:14-24, suggesting that they need to "go on to perfection" or maturity (Heb. 6:1).
  • 8:9-11. But believers are not in the flesh or at least should not be. Sin should not be reigning in their mortal bodies (6:12).
  • 8:9. In this verse we have an important truth that has often been lost in the holiness movement's emphasis on entire sanctification. The Spirit is the indicator par excellence that a person is in Christ. The correct understanding of the Spirit-fillings of Acts is as an initial experience that indicates a person is "in." You can repent, be baptized, have faith, but until you have received the Holy Spirit, in Paul's words, "this person is not Christ's." This is the consistent teaching of Paul, Acts, and Hebrews (cf. 2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:14; Acts 2:35; Heb. 6:4).
  • 8:10-11. Paul walks through the logic of the Spirit. We die with Christ. We are in Christ. But Christ is also in us when the Spirit is in us. The body is dead. The body of Sin is dead. We die to the Law. But our spirits are alive. Paul then reaches the final conclusion. God, who raised Jesus from the dead, will also give life to our mortal bodies through the indwelling Spirit.
  • That is to say, we are now able to live out the Law in our bodies. We now "walk in newness of life" (6:4).
  • 8:12-13. We reach the life conclusion. Believers do not live according to the flesh. Those who live according to the flesh will die. Galatians 5:19-20 indicate that those who live according to the flesh will not inherit the kingdom of God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 says the same. Those who live by the Spirit will live and have put to death the practices of the body.
  • 8:14-17. Those who have the Spirit are children of God, and they are led by the Spirit of God. This is not a Spirit that makes us fear judgment.
  • 8:16. There is a witness of the Spirit, a key theological idea of John Wesley. "The Spirit himself witnesses together with our spirit that we are children of God."
  • 8:15. Adoption is a key soteriological concept (along with the chorus of theological words associated with salvation: atonement, redemption, forgiveness, reconciliation, justification, adoption, regeneration, sanctification, glorification).
  • Adoption in the ancient world was perhaps, for lack of a better word, more "ontological" than it is today in our world where we are conscious of DNA and genetics. An adopted child in the ancient world was at times more important, perhaps a more substantial child than a biological one, because an adopted child was a child by choice. So Julius Caesar had biological children, but none of them were as significant as his adopted son Octavian, who would become Caesar Augustus.
  • The mention of the Aramaic word Abba substantiates the claim that Jesus used this word in reference to God the Father. It presumably was the practice of the Jerusalem church also to refer to God as Abba.
  • 8:17. Believers are thus heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, especially if we suffer with him, a common theme in Paul's writings (cf. Phil. 3:10).
  • 8:18-30. Paul now takes an eschatological perspective on the situation. He began this sub-section with consideration of how Adam brought Sin and death into the world (5:12-21). Now he ends with a consideration of how the creation eagerly awaits its redemption.
  • 8:18-25. Paul and the Romans were undergoing suffering in their bodies. Here he surely refers to external pressures on the church. 
  • 8:20. Paul pictures the creation subject to decay and corruption, perhaps in the same way that Adam brought sin and death into the world. This includes our mortal bodies, which as we have seen are subject to the power of Sin if we do not have the Spirit. 
  • 8:19. The creation is thus waiting with us for the transformation of our current bodies to be like Christ's glorious body (cf. 1 Cor. 15:49-50; Phil. 3:21). This is the revelation of the children of God. This is the "glory about to be revealed" (Rom. 8:18). This is part of glorification. The creation awaits its liberation (8:21).
  • 8:22-25. Paul has spoken of our current adoption because of the Spirit (8:15). Now he speaks of the second phase of adoption in the future tense. "The redemption of our bodies" (8:23), the transformation of our bodies to be like Christ's resurrected body, will take place at the second coming when we either are alive and transformed or are dead and raised incorruptible (1 Cor. 15:52).
  • 8:24. "In hope we have been saved." That is, we trust that we will be saved from God's coming wrath. In hope, we have already been saved. The Spirit is the firstfruits of our coming inheritance (8:23; cf. 2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5).
  • 8:26-27. In the meantime, the Spirit intercedes for us. We do not know exactly what we should pray. Should we pray for deliverance? Should we pray for endurance in suffering? The Holy Spirit knows.
  • 8:26. Some have suggested that "unspeakable groanings" refers to Paul speaking in tongues (cf. 1 Cor. 14:18). It seems impossible to know.
  • 8:28-30. Everything though is headed for redemption. We know that all things will end up at a good destination for those who love God. 
  • 8:28. Although certainly God is in control and does nothing that conflicts with his love, 8:28 probably isn't about individual circumstance but about the final goal of the story, which is in salvation. We still die of cancer. War still kills thousands of believers. You might still be murdered. That is in the point here. The point is that history works out for good and that the collective destiny of the people of God is salvation.
  • The election language of these verses is corporate. It is about the collective body of believers rather than the individual believer. 
  • 8:29. God has predestined the plan of salvation. Those in Christ will be transformed. Their bodies will be redeemed from the bondage of decay. They will be conformed to the resurrection image of the Son (cf. 1 Cor. 15:49). Paul is not thinking here of sanctification in this life but about the resurrected/transformed bodies that will take place at the second coming/resurrection.
  • The church is predestined to be saved. Those in the church he planned to justify. Those in the church will be glorified at the point of Christ's return.
C. The love of God! (8:31-39)
  • This paragraph climaxes this section (6:1-39) and indeed chapters 1-8 as a whole. No matter who might oppose the church. No matter what suffering the church might undergo, God is on the side of the Roman believers.
  • God loved us so much he did not spare his Son. Certainly he will not let anyone else get in the way of the salvation of those with faith, especially the Gentiles.
  • 8:31. God is for us--he is for the Gentiles and Jews who believe. 
  • 8:33-34. He is the judge. He is the one who justifies. Who cares if some other believers or some non-believing Jews say they are not "in." The church are the elect, the ones God has chosen.
  • 8:34. Jesus' blood intercedes against our condemnation. The Spirit thus is intercessor for our needs and desires. Christ is more our intercessor for atonement (cf. Heb. 7:25).
  • 8:35-39. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ or the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. Death cannot. Various evil spiritual powers cannot. The future cannot. Nothing in the creation can.
  • We do have to read these thoughts within the scope Paul intended. Paul is assuming throughout that we want the love of Christ, that we have faith in God. Nothing outside us can separate us from Christ. But if we walk away from faith, we have walked away from God. God does not force us to stay. 
I. Introduction
1. Romans 1:1-15

II.1 Who is Justified?
II.1.1 Humanity's Problem
2. Romans 1:16-17
3. Romans 1:18-32
4. Romans 2:1-3:20

II.1.2 God's Solution
5. Romans 3:21-31
6. Romans 4:1-5:11

II.2 What about Sin?
7. Romans 5:12-6:23

Sunday, December 10, 2017

6. Concentrated Romans (4:1-5:11)

Almost done.
I. Introduction
1. Romans 1:1-15

II.1 Who is Justified?
II.1.1 Humanity's Problem
2. Romans 1:16-17
3. Romans 1:18-32
4. Romans 2:1-3:20

II.1.2 God's Solution
5. Romans 3:21-31

Romans 4:1-5:11
A. Abraham as an example (4:1-25)
  • Paul has expressed the basics of justification in the previous verses. "A person is justified by faith apart from works of Law" (3:28). The basis for this right standing is the atonement made possible through the offering of Christ (3:25).
  • 4:1-3. Paul now substantiates that claim with the example of Abraham. What does Genesis say? Was Abraham declared right with God by works he did, like circumcision? Or was Abraham justified by faith? 
  • Abraham was justified by faith: "Abraham had faith in God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness" (Gen. 15:6).
  • The word righteousness (dikaiosyne) and the word justify (dikaioo) are obviously the same root in Greek. To justify is thus to "righteous-ify." The verses that follow here in Romans 4 make it clear that this means to "declare in right standing" with God.
  • The same is true of the word for "faith" (pistis) and "believe" (pisteuo). In some circumstances, "to believe" might be translated "to have faith." 
  • Abraham had no basis for boasting, because it was a matter of God's action. The theme of boasting, one we might be prone to miss, appears throughout this first section of Romans. A self-righteous Jew wrongfully boasts in Romans 2. 3:27 made clear there was no room for boasting. Here he repeats it and 5:11 will make it clear that we can boast only in God. 
  • 4:4-8. These verses more than any other make clear what Paul means by justification. Justification is not something you earn because you are good enough. Justification is a gift--a right standing with God is a gift.
  • 4:5. Faith is "credited" as righteousness. It is not actual righteousness. Debates over whether faith then becomes a work go far beyond Paul or his world. Grace in the ancient world--unearned and disproportionate giving--could be solicited (see John Barclay, Paul and the Gift). Faith is simply the act of soliciting God's grace, in this respect. Attempts to keep faith from being an act on the part of the solicitor are simply overt or covert special pleading (e.g., N. T. Wright). Similarly, ancient grace typically came with informal expectations.
  • 4:6-8. Paul turns to Psalm 32:1-2 to support his case. "David" speaks of sins being forgiven and not being counted against someone. Herein comes the youth slogan: "When I'm justified, it's just-as-if-I'd never sinned." True, although a more precise definition of "to justify" is "to declare in right standing." In our case, forgiveness is necessary for justification. On the other hand, Jesus could be "justified," declared in good standing with God, because he really was (cf. 1 Tim. 3:16). To justify can thus be "to acquit," "to pronounce innocent," "to declare 'not guilty.'" The person justified can be so either legitimately (cf. 1 Cor. 4:4) or by declaration (an imputation of sorts).
  • 4:9-12. This is a brilliant argument in response to Paul's opponents who apparently argued the necessity of being a child of Abraham to be in God's people. Paul notes that Genesis 15:6 appears in Genesis before Abraham is circumcised. 
  • 4:11-12. Abraham is thus the father of all those who are uncircumcised and believe (Gentiles) and he is the father of all those who are circumcised and believe (Jews). Abraham thus reinforces rather than contradicts the idea that Gentiles can be justified by faith.
  • Abraham also raises again a question from Romans 1. Are there individuals who have not heard of Jesus who can have faith in God up to the knowledge they have and be justified. Abraham was such a person.
  • 4:13-17. So Abraham did not inherit the promise on the basis of the Law because the Law did not yet exist. The Law simply brings wrath (4:15). The Law only brings the reckoning of transgressions against it (4:15). The Law ignores faith as a criterion (4:14). The Law has nothing to do with promise (4:14; see Gen. 17:5).
  • 4:16. The principle of fulfilling God's promise to Abraham through faith makes God the Father of all who are justified, both Jew and Gentile.
  • 4:17 is the second of three places in the chapter about faith that show Paul thought of it as primarily directed toward God the Father. The first of course are those earlier about Abraham having faith in God. To be sure, Paul can also speak of faith directed toward Christ (e.g., 9:33). But there is no other unambiguous statement about faith in Christ in Romans. 
  • By contrast, 4:17 speaks of God the Father as the one in whom Abraham had faith. 
  • God as Creator is also invoked here. He is the one who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that did not exist. Paul probably is not thinking ex nihilo creation yet, as this is an idea that seems to have arisen in Jewish and Christian circles in the late second century.
  • 4:19 reminds us of Hebrews 11:11-12.
  • 4:24 confirms that Paul primarily sees faith directed toward "him who raised Jesus from the dead," that is, God the Father.
  • 4:25 is a unique statement about salvation that connects Jesus resurrection with our justification. Because Jesus lives, we can rise "not guilty" before God. Jesus was handed over and died for our sins. We are crucified with Christ. We die with Christ. In Christ the Law enacts its verdict on us. But with Christ we rise. We rise innocent. We rise "not guilty." We rise declared in good standing with the Judge. And we rise to new life.
B. The bottom line (5:1-11)
  • We can debate whether these verses end the first sub-unit of Romans or begin the second. The mention of God's wrath in 5:9 reminds us of 1:18, potentially forming a kind of inclusio with the beginning of the sub-unit. At the same time, the mention of glory in 5:1 anticipates 8:18. You might argue that these are swing verses that both conclude one section and introduce the next. Nevertheless, I think they have more in common with the first sub-unit than the second.
  • So 1:18-4:25 have been addressing the question, "Who is justified?" Paul's answer is, those who have faith in God. 5:1 begins from here. "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God." We are reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20).
  • God's grace has made this possible, and so we hope for the glory of God (5:2). "All have sinned and are lacking the glory of God" (3:23). But we have hope of it. God created us for it (Ps. 8:5).
  • 5:9-10. In the meantime, Paul and the Romans would face suffering. But suffering would bring endurance, and endurance character. Character would bring hope. And hope is not be in vain because we have a guarantee of our future inheritance--the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 1:22). The Holy Spirit is God's very love poured out inside us.
  • 5:6-8. Very important verses on the love of God. God loved us when we were his enemies. He loved us so much that Christ died for us. 5:8 is the third stop on the Roman Road, which gives a rationale for choosing Christ (all have sinned--3:23; the wages of sin is death--6:23; now God shows his love by Christ's death for us--5:8).
  • 5:9-11. Justification on the basis of Christ's blood ensures salvation--that we will escape the wrath of God. We were reconciled to God through the death of his Son. Now we will be saved through his life.
  • That is something we can boast about. We can boast in him.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Philo and Christianity

I have a chapter in my book, A Brief Guide to Philo, showing parallels between Philo and the New Testament. I continue to believe that my book is the best intro for the complete beginner, and it has been translated into Russian and Korean. With regard to early Christianity, David Runia has a much more detailed book called, Philo and Early Christian Literature.

The sections of the chapter in my book are:
        • Philo the "Christian"
        • Philo and Early Hellenistic Christianity
        • Philo and Paul's Writings (The Corinthians, The Colossians)
        • Philo and Hebrews (The Cumulative Effect of Parallels, Angels in Hebrews and Philo, The logos in Hebrews and Philo, The Tabernacle in Hebrews and Philo, Other Parallels)
        • Philo and the Gospel of John 
        • Philo and New Testament Hymns
        • Beyond the New Testament
There is another life where I wrote a book called Philo and Early Christology. That's a world were I didn't teach as many overloads as I did my first fifteen years of teaching. :-)

4. Concentrated Romans (2:1-3:20)

Study notes on Romans continue.

I. Introduction
1. Romans 1:1-15

II.1 Who is Justified?
II.1.1 Humanity's Problem
2. Romans 1:16-17
3. Romans 1:18-32
C. Jews have sinned too (2:1-29)
  • Paul now turns the tables on any self-righteous person who might be a little too happy about the fate of sinful Gentiles. He thus targets the hypocrite, which could be a Jew who boasts in having the Law.
  • 2:1-16. Paul looks to the Day of Judgment. "God will repay each person for what they have done" (2:6; Ps. 62:12).
  • 2:2. When God judges the person of Romans 1, his judgment is righteous, because he is righteous and not a hypocrite.
  • 2:4. God in his mercy lets us repent for our sins. How would we then condemn others for wrongs of which we ourselves are guilty? Read slightly differently than Paul probably meant it, you might read this verse to say that it is God's empowerment inside us that causes us to repent or his prevenient grace that empowers us to repent. Again, this is probably not precisely what Paul was saying.
  • 2:5 makes it clear that God's wrath is not merely him letting us experience the consequences of our sins. There is a Day of Wrath coming as well. 
  • There is a Day of Judgment coming. Some will receive glory and honor and peace on that day (2:10). Others will experience trouble and distress, wrath and anger (2:8-9). 
  • God will not show favoritism on that day. Whether you are a Jew or a Gentile, the judgment will be the same.
  • 2:13. It is not those who hear the Law (e.g., Jews) who are righteous in God's sight (i.e., justified). It is those who actually do the Law.
  • 2:14-15. Paul now introduces a radical possibility. What if there would be a Gentile who, although not growing up knowing the Law (they do not "by nature" have the Law), nevertheless keep the Law?
  • N. T. Wright suggests that Paul has in mind a Gentile believer and this would seem to be the best interpretation. The other possibility is that Paul is setting out a scenario that could never be the case. If there were such a Gentile, that person who kept the Law would be more righteous than a Jew who did not.
  • The Law in question here must be some subset of the whole Jewish Law. In particular, it must not include the "Jew-specific" parts of the Law like circumcision. It would make no sense to speak of a Gentile keeping circumcision without having the Law.
  • The love command in the Law, discussed in Romans 13:8-10, is likely the essence of the Law Paul has in mind. In 8:4, Paul speaks of a person fulfilling the "righteous requirement" of the Law because of the Holy Spirit. These images all likely fit together.
  • So Paul speaks of a Gentile believer who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, keeps the righteous requirement of the Jewish Law (love) even though he or she does not have the Law "by nature."
  • There is some debate about what the phrase, "by nature," goes with. Is Paul talking about a Gentile keeping the Law "by nature"? More likely Paul is talking about the fact that a Gentile does not have the Law "by nature." That is to say, Gentiles do not normally know the Jewish Law. It is not something they grow up with normally.
  • Such Gentile believers have the Law written on their hearts, possibly an allusion to the new covenant passage of Jeremiah 31 (cf. Heb. 8).
  • 2:16. In Paul's understanding of the good news, God will use Jesus on the Day of Judgment to judge everyone's secret thoughts.
  • 2:17-29. Paul now addresses a self-righteous Jew directly. It does not matter if you are even a teacher of the Law if you do not do it. You might know and preach about stealing or adultery, but if you do the same things, you are no better than someone who does not know not to do these things.
  • Such hypocrisy in the end is a bad witness. It causes non-Jews among the Gentiles to malign the God of Israel (2:24).
  • 2:26-29. So true circumcision is circumcision of the heart, not the flesh. A Gentile who loves his or her neighbor may as well be circumcised physically, and a Jew who does not might just as well be uncircumcised. 
  • John Wesley had a well-known sermon on the circumcision of the heart. 
D. All have sinned (3:1-20)
  • We now come to the bottom line. The implication of Romans 1 was that Gentiles have sinned. But we learned in Romans 2 that Jews sin too. We are building to the conclusion of 3:23--"All have sinned," that is, both Gentile and Jew. Both "races" stand under the condemnation of sin and thus all humanity has a problem. "The wages of sin is death" (6:23).
  • As Krister Stendahl pointed out in a famous article called, "Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West," Paul's argument here is about Jews and Gentiles. Paul also believes that all individuals have sinned, but his point is focused on two groups. All--that is both Gentile and Jew--have sinned.
  • 3:1-8. Paul anticipates a question he will explore in greater detail in chapters 9-11. What's the point of being a Jew if it does not help you be right with God? Paul's answer seems to be the honor of the things God has entrusted to the Jews (9:1-5) but perhaps also the fact that Jews have a greater default knowledge of God--they have the Scriptures (3:2).
  • But the faithlessness of many Jews does not negate God's faithfulness (3:3).
  • 3:7-8. Some have accused Paul of teaching that the more we sin, the more glory God gets for his graciousness. They have accused him of encouraging sin because of claiming that works of Law cannot make a person right with God. Paul vigorously rejects this accusation and will strongly push back on it in Romans 6-8.
  • 3:9-10. Rather, the Law makes us aware that we are sinners already (3:20). No one will be declared right with God on the basis of the Law. The Law silences every human being's pretense to self-righteousness. 
  • 3:9. Jew and Gentile alike are under the power of Sin. In this respect, there is no advantage to being a Jew.
  • 3:10-18. In these verses Paul strings together a number of passages from the Old Testament whose words relate to human sinfulness. These passages include Psalm 14:1-3 or Ecclesiastes 7:20; Psalm 5:9; Psalm 140:3; Psalm 10:7; Isaiah 59:7-8; and Psalm 36:1.
  • In Old Testament context, these passages were not referring to all humanity but specifically to the wicked, even to fools who do not believe in God. Nevertheless, Paul paints a picture of the human default that is all too familiar.
  • This passage is the basis for the doctrine of total depravity, the idea that humanity is thoroughly corrupted and unable to choose God in its own power. The teaching that humans can choose God in their own power is called Pelagianism.
  • However, Paul never says here that there is absolutely no good in a human being. Indeed, since we remain in the image of God, it would seem wrong to read Paul to teach an absolute depravity. He is rather speaking of a thorough depravity. Perhaps we might say that there is no area of human existence that is not marred by sin.

Friday, December 08, 2017

12. Concentrated Romans (15:14-16:27)

This is the last section of Romans, although I still have a few holes to plug.

Romans 15:14-16:27
A. Closing (15:14-33)
  • These verses close the body of the letter. The earliest papyrus manuscript of Paul's letters (p46) also puts the doxology of 16:25-27 here. See comments below on Romans 16. 
  • 15:14-21. Paul understands himself to be the apostle to the Gentiles. In 15:16, Paul compares himself to a priestly minister (leitourgos), serving as a priest of the gospel (hierougeo) offering up the Gentiles to God (prospora). 
  • 15:19. Miracles were part of Paul's ministry.
  • Paul also had ministered already as far west as Illyricum. That's in the far northwest of Greece. When did he go there? Acts does not say. Perhaps it was while he was in Greece the first time.
  • 15:20. Paul does not see it as his mission to build established churches. He is a church planter. He does not plan to stay in Rome for long but to use it as a launching point.
  • 15:22-23. Paul talks about his plans. He plans to go from Rome to Spain (15:24). At present he is headed to Jerusalem (15:25).
  • 15:24-29. Paul has been collecting an offering (cf. 2 Cor. 8-9) to take to Jerusalem. This offering perhaps is the fulfillment of the concern for the poor in Galatians 2:10.
  • 15:27. Paul sees this gift to the Jews by the Gentiles as material reciprocity for the spiritual gift the Jews have given to them.
  • 15:30-33. Paul realizes he faces enemies in Jerusalem. He asks for the prayers of the Romans that the Jerusalem church will accept his offering. Of course Acts tells us that he gets arrested in Jerusalem.
B. Letter of Recommendation (16:1-27)
  • Although most Romans scholars currently think Romans 16 is right where it should be, some have argued that it may have been a separate letter sent to Ephesus from Corinth at the same time as Romans. The reasons are 1) these are a lot of people for Paul to know at a place he's never visited, 2) some of them are associated with Asia or were last known to have been at Ephesus (e.g., Priscilla and Aquila), 3) there are some manuscript issues with the conclusion.
  • Romans 16 would especially seem to be a letter of recommendation for Phoebe (16:1-2). We think of how different distance was experienced in a world without phones or email, and how important such commendations were.
  • Phoebe was a deacon (diakonos), the leadership role mentioned in various places in the New Testament (e.g., Phil. 1:1). Throughout this chapter, Paul shows that he worked alongside many women in his mission. No hint of the kind of segregation of ministry sometimes advocated today.
  • Cenchreae was a port village of Corinth, an indication that Paul is in Corinth as he writes.
  • Priscilla and Aquila had been Paul's coworkers originally in Corinth and then in Ephesus. In 2 Timothy 4 they are in Ephesus again. Priscilla is often mentioned first before her husband, a matter of some significance in that world.
  • Epaenetus was the first convert in Asia, in Ephesus presumably.
  • Andronicus and Junia, a Jewish husband and wife pair, were notable "among the apostles." The wording is a little ambiguous but may suggest that this couple had witnessed the risen Christ and been commissioned by him to proclaim that witness. That would put this man and woman in the same second tier apostleship as Paul and Barnabas. Other translations with a bias against women in ministry (e.g., ESV) render the verse to say that they were well-known to the apostles.
  • 16:17-23. A warning against divisions. Interesting that some from Corinth are then mentioned. Is this also a subtle hint to them as well? Paul warns against those who deceive the innocent with flattery and smooth talk. Perhaps false-teachers are already beginning to become a problem in the church.
  • 16:23. Gaius seems to provide the central home for the church of Corinth to meet, and that is where Paul is staying as he writes. Erastus is the city's aedile. A paving stone survives at Corinth with his name carved in it, stating that he paid for it.
  • 16:22. Tertius is the name of the scribe or amanuensis who wrote Romans down.
  • 16:21 Timothy is with Paul, as we would have thought from 2 Corinthians.
  • 16:20 is an allusion to Genesis 3:15, an indication that Paul thought of the serpent in the Garden as Satan.
  • There is some variety in the endings of Romans among the manuscripts. The verses, 16:25-27, are actually located at the end of Romans 14 in most Greek manuscripts, which of course are medieval. There was thus another ending in some manuscripts, 16:24. 
  • This raises the question of whether this ending doxology was part of the original Romans or whether it was originally located elsewhere. The oldest manuscript of Paul has it at the end of chapter 15, which fits with the hypothesis that chapter 16 was originally a separate letter to Ephesus.
  • To God be glory forevermore!
I. Introduction
1. Romans 1:1-15

II.1 Who is Justified?
II.1.1 Humanity's Problem
2. Romans 1:16-17
3. Romans 1:18-32
4. Romans 2:1-3:20

II.1.2 God's Solution
5. Romans 3:21-31
6. Romans 4:1-5:11

II.2 What about Sin?
7. Romans 5:12-6:23
8. Romans 7:1-8:39

II.3 What about Israel?
9. Romans 9-11

III. Transformed Minds
10. Romans 12-13
11. Romans 14:1-15:13

Thursday, December 07, 2017

9. Concentrated Romans (9:1-11:36)

See the bottom for the whole series.

II.3 What about Israel?
Romans 9-11
A. Paul's love for his people (9:1-5)
  • This is the third and final section of the first half of Romans. The first section addressed the question of "Who will be justified before God and how?" (1:18-5:11). The second addressed the follow-up question of "What about sin and the law, then?" (5:12-8:39). Now we get the big picture question, "What about Israel?"
  • When Protestant interpreters read Romans 1-8 in universal, individual terms, Romans 9-11 seemed out of place. But in truth, the question of the inclusion of the Gentiles into the people of God has been the underlying question of Romans from the very beginning. Paul declares in the first section that not only Gentiles but Jews themselves come into right status with God by faith. The question of sin and the Law is a question of the Jewish Law and its purpose if Jews and Gentiles are justified by faith.
  • So now we arrive at the elephant in the room. Has God just abandoned his special relationship with Israel then? If Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, why is it that more Gentiles than Jews have believed? What's going on?!
  • 9:1-5. Paul makes it clear in these verses that he cares about his own people. No doubt some had accused him of hating his own people. By contrast, he says he would willingly become accursed if it would save his own people. Their lack of faith in Christ is a matter of great sorrow and anguish for him.
  • He speaks of the great honors that are Israel's. God first chose them to be his "son" among the nations of the world. Now the rest of the world is becoming his sons and daughters. They were given great honor in the Old Testament (cf. Rom. 3:1-2).
  • Israel was given the Law, which shows us God's righteous expectation, especially to love our neighbor. Theirs were the covenants--with Abraham, with Moses. Theirs were the fathers.
  • Theirs was the temple. Paul gives not a hint that the temple is obsolete in its functions, nor does he foresee the temple's destruction in any of his writings.
  • To Israel belonged the Messiah, Jesus. There is a grammatical question in 9:5. The original manuscripts did not have punctuation. In fact they were written in continuous letters without many spaces. Does Paul mean to say, "the Christ according to the flesh, who is God over all, blessed forever" or "the Christ according to the flesh. God who is over all be blessed forever"?
  • The theology of the first is of course what we believe as Christians, but it is not a statement Paul makes anywhere in his writings other than Titus 2:13. It does not deny the theology of the first to conclude that it would be more typical of Paul to say the second.
B. God can do what he wants (9:6-29)
  • These verses are the central passage on predestination in the Bible. Several things should be kept in mind as we read them. First, Paul still has the Jew-Gentile question in view. That is to say, he is not really talking about individual predestination but God's plan with regard to Israel and the Gentiles. Paul's fundamental point is that if God wants to harden Israel for a season to save the Gentiles, he can do whatever he wants for he is God.
  • A second thing to remember is that the hardened of Romans 9 can still be saved in Romans 11. Paul does not see predestination as something that is unalterable.
  • Paul does not harmonize his language of predestination with his language of free choice. This fits with some cultural dimensions from his day. In the Oedipus cycle, Oedipus has a fate that works its way out, but he acts freely throughout the story. Paul does not explain how these two conflicting notions fit together. That is why we have Calvinists, Arminians, Molinists, and others today.
  • Central to Paul is that God is not to blame. God's word to Israel has not failed. Why? Because this is part of God's sovereign plan. This is also the key biblical passage for God's sovereignty, his absolute authority over his creation.
  • 9:6. "Not all Israel is Israel." Here is an important theological point for all time. Those who visibly seem to be part of the people of God are never exactly the people of God. Even in ancient Israel, not all Israel was Israel. In the church, not everyone in the church is truly in the church. But see 11:26
  • The passage certainly sounds like double predestination, but we have to keep in mind the rest of the New Testament as well, which does not sound that way. Among all of the New Testament, this is the unusual passage. Paul makes his point well enough. God can do whatever God wants to do because he is God.
  • "The clay would not say to the potter, would it, 'Why have you made me thus?'" (9:20). Again, Paul makes the point clearly enough. God can do whatever God wants to do because he is God. We know of course from elsewhere (e.g., 1 Tim. 2:4) that God wants everyone to be saved. That is what he ultimately wants to do.
  • 9:23-29. God's will is to save the Gentiles. That is what this passage is really about. Paul uses a string of verses from the Old Testament to substantiate his point.
C. Justification by Faith (9:30-10:21)
  • 9:30-33. We revisit some of the material from the first part of Romans but now with the underlying issue fully in view. The Jews have not been seeking justification in the right way, but many Gentiles now have.
  • Gentiles have attained righteousness, justification, by faith. But Israel, pursuing justification by the Jewish Law, "works of Law," have not. They have tripped over Jesus, God's fore-ordained path to justification.
  • Again, Paul reiterates that his hope for Israel is salvation. They have a zeal (like he once did), but it is a zeal without knowledge. They do not recognize their own Messiah.
  • Christ is the goal, the telos, the "end" of the Law. Christ is the one to whom the Law pointed (cf. Gal. 4:1-2).
  • 10:5-13. Justification, a right standing with God, is not a matter of great effort, of "works of Law." You do not need to climb to heaven or descend to the underworld to get it. The word of faith which puts you in right standing with God is in your mouth.
  • "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (10:9). That is, you will escape the wrath of God on the day of judgment. "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (10:13), whether you are a Jew or a Gentile.
  • The Lordship of Jesus, here as elsewhere, is intrinsically connected to Jesus' resurrection. It is when Jesus sits at God's right hand that he is "enthroned" as Messiah, Lord, and Son of God.
  • As simple as it is to do so, it is not simply putting down true on a quiz. It is a life commitment. It will lead to a life of works, and we will each give an account for the deeds done in the body (2 Cor. 5:10). We are committing our allegiance to Jesus as our king.
  • 10:14-21. Paul now moves toward one of his purposes for writing Romans. He is hoping that the churches of Rome will support him on a mission to Spain. If the Gentiles can be saved, then missionaries are needed to go tell them. Paul is just such a missionary. How can they call on Christ if they have not had faith yet? How will they have faith if they do not hear? How will they hear unless someone goes?
  • Paul is not dealing with a separate question. How does God deal with those who have never heard. We looked at this question briefly in relation to Romans 1:19-20.
  • Israel, however, has not believed even though they have heard. Paul gives several Scriptures to support this claim.
D. Israel will be saved (11:1-32)
  • 11:1-32. There is still hope for Israel. A key indication that predestination language in Romans 9 does not function in the way Augustine, Wycliffe, and Calvin thought it did is the fact that those whom God has hardened in Romans 9 can still be saved in Romans 11.
  • 11:1-10. God has not rejected his people. Indeed, 11:29 will tell us soon that God's calling on Israel is irrevocable.
  • 11:2-5. There is a remnant who believes, the true Israel within the ethnic people of Israel, as in the days of Elijah.
  • 11:6-10. In the mystery of God's will, Israel is currently experiencing a "stupor" in relation to its own messiah.
  • 11:11-24. But they have not stumbled beyond recovery. In this section Paul develops the branch metaphor. God has broken off many natural branches to the tree so that he can graft in the wild Gentile branches. Clearly, then, Paul still considers ethnic Israel in the Old Testament the trunk of the tree.
  • But this is not a fixed situation. The natural branches (ethnic Israel) can be grafted back in. God would be delighted to do so. Similarly, if the grafted branches (Gentile believers) turn away, they can be cut back out again. 
  • God is using the in-grafting of the Gentiles into the people of God to provoke the natural Israelite branches to jealousy.
  • 11:25-32. Here are highly debated verses, but the train of thought is clear. Part of Israel is currently experiencing a hardening until the full number of the Gentiles come in. Then all Israel will be saved. Paul looks to the eventual faith of ethnic Israel. The Messiah will turn godlessness away from Jacob. That is, he will bring faith to unbelieving Israel.
  • This of course did not happen in Paul's lifetime and has not happened since. In their enthusiasm for the re-establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 and their horror for the Holocaust, many Christians have forgotten that nothing has changed with unbelieving Israel from Paul's point of view. In fact, there are far more Palestinian believers in Palestine than there are Israeli believers today. 
  • 11:32. All are in a state of disobedience, both Jew and Gentile, but God's plan is to have mercy on both.
E. Doxology (11:33-36)
  • Paul ends the first half of Romans with a doxology of praise to God. Who can understand the plans of God? We cannot think his thoughts after him. He is sovereign and in control. He is the source of all things ("from whom"), the means of all things ("through whom"), and the purpose of all things ("for whom").
  • Praise be to God!
I. Introduction
1. Romans 1:1-15

II.1 Who is Justified?
II.1.1 Humanity's Problem
2. Romans 1:16-17
3. Romans 1:18-32
4. Romans 2:1-3:20

II.1.2 God's Solution
5. Romans 3:21-31
6. Romans 4:1-5:11

II.2 What about Sin?
7. Romans 5:12-6:23
8. Romans 7:1-8:39

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

11. Concentrated Romans (14:1-15:13)

See the bottom for the whole series.

Romans 14:1-15:13
  • This section finishes showing the Romans what a transformed mind looks like. It also finishes the main body of Romans. In particular, these two chapters deal with Christian disagreements.
  • Paul postures the discussion between the "strong" and the "weak." We should not, however, miss the rhetorical strategy here. In 1 Corinthians 8-10, Paul's intention is to move the Corinthians more toward the behaviors of the "weak." Positioning himself with the strong makes them more sympathetic to the course of action he suggests.
  • 14:2-6. Paul mentions some issues that Christians disagreed about. Some apparently only ate vegetables in their avoidance of meat that had been sacrificed to an idol. Jews and presumably some conservative Gentiles kept the Jewish Sabbath on Saturday. Those who have such convictions often believe everyone should have their convictions.
  • Paul tells the "strong," those who do not have those convictions, not to look down on those who have them. Other Christians are God's servants, not ours. They report to him.
  • 14:7-12. Here is one of the key principles of this unit. We all stand or fall before God. I do not stand or fall before you or even my church. I stand or fall before God. I live for the Lord. I die for the Lord. 
  • Each of us will give an account to God. We will all stand before the judgment seat of God (cf. 2 Cor. 5:10). As 14:5 says, "Let each person be fully convinced in his/her own mind."
  • 14:13-18. What is the logical consequence of of this principle ("therefore")? It is that believers should stop judging each other for their personal convictions. In the flow, his focus is not on the weak judging the strong--those with convictions judging those without them. He is especially telling those without convictions not to judge those who have them!
  • "I have been persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but if someone thinks something is unclean it is unclean" (14:14). Paul probably does not entirely mean this. It is doubtful that he would say that murder is a matter of personal conscience or the man sleeping with his father's wife in 1 Corinthians 5. This is a discussion that relates to those "in the Lord" and Paul might not consider those who would do such things to be in the Lord.
  • However, Paul does take a relativist position on the disputable issues in question. He is not a "realist" when it comes to such moral issues. When it comes to the Jewish Sabbath or meat offered to idols, it is a matter of personal conviction. There is no universal or absolutist position on these. 
  • So if you think the meat is unclean, it is unclean to you. If you think God requires you to observe the Jewish Sabbath, then you must observe it.
  • Paul's view, as in 1 Corinthians 8-10, is toward those who might stumble because of someone else's freedom. It is interesting that Paul writes this chapter from Corinth to Rome and a copy of the letter would have perhaps been made to stay with him. Is it not likely that the Corinthians would have heard Romans read to them?
  • Our rights and freedoms are not the final issue. More important than whether my conscience is clear is the effect my actions have on others. I may feel free to do all sorts of things. But if my freedom causes another Christian to stumble, I have failed.
  • This is the second principle of the chapter. The first was, "Be fully convinced in your own mind" (14:5). The second is, "Do not put an obstacle or stumbling block before a brother or sister" (14:13).
  • 14:19-23. We reach the conclusion. There should be peace between believers. We should build each other up. "It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that will cause your brother or sister to stumble" (14:21).
  • A third principle is in 14:22--you can be wrongly convinced.
  • So these are the three take aways: 1) be fully convinced of your own convictions, 2) make choices on how to act on your convictions with others in mind, and 3) remember you can be wrongly convinced.
  • 14:23 gives us perhaps the most revealing description of sin in the New Testament: "Whatever is not of faith is sin. In other words, sin is overwhelmingly a matter of intention. If you knowingly do something that conflicts with your allegiance to Christ, you have sinned. It is not the act that is really the sin. It is not the food, because all food is clean (14:20). Sin lies is in the intention in relation to your faith.
  • 15:1-2. So the "strong" should not bully the "weak." They should want to build them up.
  • 15:3-6. Jesus didn't use his strength to overpower his persecutors.
  • Interesting statement on a purpose of Scripture in 15:4. Scripture gives us examples of endurance and encouragement that gives us hope. This seems to be the primary purpose of its teaching for Paul.
  • The church should live with that endurance and encouragement in mind. It glorifies God for us to embody this focus of the teaching of Scripture.
  • 15:7-13. Therefore, believers should consider each other legitimate, even when they disagree on various convictions. Jesus came as a Jew to fulfill God's promises to the fathers, but also that the good news might reach the Gentiles. There's perhaps some hint here that the Jew/Gentile divide relates in a broad way to the divide over convictions.
  • These verses end with an almost hymnic chain of verses from the Old Testament in which Paul saw an indication that the Gentiles would eventually come to faith (Ps. 18:49; Deut. 32:43; Ps. 117:1; Isa. 11:10). 
  • 15:13 is a doxology that concluded the letter body of Romans. 
I. Introduction
1. Romans 1:1-15

II.1 Who is Justified?
II.1.1 Humanity's Problem
2. Romans 1:16-17
3. Romans 1:18-32
4. Romans 2:1-3:20

II.1.2 God's Solution
5. Romans 3:21-31
6. Romans 4:1-5:11

II.2 What about Sin?
7. Romans 5:12-6:23
8. Romans 7:1-8:39

II.3 What about Israel?
9. Romans 9-11

III. Transformed Minds
10. Romans 12-13

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

7. Concentrated Romans (5:12-6:23)

Previous posts at bottom

II.2 What about Sin?
Romans 5:12-6:23
A. Structure
  • So the first half of Romans is the teaching, doctrinal, or expositional part of Romans (1:16-11:36). Within that first half we have three sections, which address three questions a Jew or conservative Gentile believer might have in relation to Paul's understanding of the gospel. The first is, "Who is justified?" (1:18-5:11).
  • 5:12 arguably begins Paul's answer to the question, "What then about sin?" He has indicated that both Jew and Gentile are deemed right with God on the basis of faith because of the offering of Christ. This leads to the objection, what then does sin matter? Why did God even come up with the Jewish Law if it plays no role in having a right standing before God?
  • This is the tightrope Paul also walks in Galatians. We are not deemed right with God by the Law but that is no excuse to sin. So you might say that the first sub-section of this half of Romans is on justification (1:18-5:11) and the second sub-section is on sanctification (5:12-8:39). 
  • If we walk in the Spirit, we will not fulfill the desires of the flesh, even though we are not under the Law.
B. Origins of Sin (5:12-21)
  • 5:12 is the sole basis it would seem for the idea of original guilt or original sin. Of course we can refer to the sin of Adam as the original sin. And sometimes people confuse our "sinful nature" with original sin. Rather our propensity to sin is a result of Adam's original sin. We are under the power of Sin because of Adam's original sin.
  • But the idea that we have guilt because of Adam's sin, sometimes thought to be taken away in baptism, seems solely based on Augustine's misinterpretation of Romans 5:12. Augustine took this verse to say, "Death passed on to all people in whom all sinned." Because he could not read Greek, Augustine misread this verse to say that we all sinned "in Adam" and therefore we all bare original guilt from that sin.
  • It is now generally recognized that Paul is saying death passed on to everyone "in that" all have sinned or "because" all sin. We all sin like Adam and therefore we have individual guilt for our own sins, not for Adam's.
  • The question of how death passed is a broader theological question. In the Garden, death results because Adam and Eve are not able to eat from the Tree of Life. That suggests that, from the standpoint of Genesis, Adam and Even would have died by nature but life would have come through the tree.
  • Paul never finishes the sentence begun in 5:12. He interrupts his train of thought in 5:13 to explain the origins of the power of Sin.
  • 5:13-14. After Adam, people die. From Adam to Moses, people die. Paul somewhat ambiguously says that people died even though the Law was not around to charge them for it. We at least see one function of the Law hinted at here--the Law tells us we have sinned. The power of Sin was in the world. They sinned like Adam. They died.
  • 5:15-19. Now Paul has a series of contrasts of Adam with Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 15). Many died because of Adam's sin. Grace abounds through Christ.
  • Grace is "unmerited favor." It is the givingness of God even though we cannot pay for what he gives. Grace is undeserved and unmerited giving. The ancients would have expected that we give back to God in return, even though nothing we could give would be sufficient. We give God honor. We give God our faith and allegiance. We walk in the Spirit rather than the flesh.
  • Judgment and condemnation follow the one man's sin. Righteousness, acquittal, and life follow the other. 
  • In 5:19 we have a statement (cf. Luke Timothy Johnson) that effectively states the "faithfulness of Jesus Christ" interpretation of 3:22. "through the obedience of one man, many will be confirmed righteous."
  • 5:20. The Law increased the trespass. Two possible senses. One that the Law informed us so that we saw how many trespasses we have. Another possibility will suggest itself in the following chapters. The second is that in some way, the power of Sin makes me sin even more when I know what is wrong.
C. No Excuse to Sin (6:1-23)
  • So we get to one of the chief accusations against Paul--that he promotes sin. "What shall we say? Should we continue in sin that grace may abound?" This is the accusation Paul's enemies have made of him (cf. 3:8). His answer, "of course not."
  • 6:1-14. Paul continues the diatribe, question-answer style.
  • It is important to recognize that Paul's purpose in this unit 6:1-8:17 is to argue that God's grace is no excuse to sin. Many Christians get off track because they read 7:7-26 out of context. They ignore the whole train of thought in this section. 
  • Paul's answer is an emphatic NO. We have died to sin. We should not sin.
  • We were buried with Christ in baptism. We need to rise to a new way of life, to new living. Ironically, although we are no longer under the Law, we should now be able to keep it through the power of the Spirit.
  • There may be an allusion to how the early church baptized. "We were buried." This phrasing may suggest immersion. Of course the New Testament makes no command about how to baptize.
  • The train of thought is not about legal justification now. It is about empowerment to righteous living. It is no longer about "imputed righteousness" but now about "imparted righteousness."
  • We have joined with Christ We have some sort of mystic participation in Christ. "I have been crucified with Christ," Galatians 2:20 says. We became united in the likeness of his death, now we live a different life as we participate in his resurrection.
  • Our "body of sin" has been destroyed, that is, our flesh, our skin under the power of Sin. We should remember this verse when we get to 7:24 and Paul dramatically pleads, "Who will free me from the body of this death?" For the Christian, this has already happened or at least should have happened.
  • 6:12. Therefore, Sin--the power of Sin--must not reign in our mortal bodies. It is not that our bodies are intrinsically sinful (as the Gnostics believed). It is that our skin is weak. In our natural state, we have no power against the power of Sin. But as believers with the Spirit, we must not let Sin reign over our bodies. Paul does not support a "sinning religion."
  • We not to give the instruments of our bodies to the power of Sin. We should yield our bodies as instruments of righteousness.
  • 6:15-23. Here is the second question of the chapter. It is similar to the first. Should we sin because we are not under Law but under grace? Again, an emphatic NO.
  • Either one is a slave to Sin or a slave to righteousness. The first results in death. The second results in righteousness. The first leads to impurity and wickedness. The second leads to holiness and eternal life.
  • Holiness, whose core idea is to belong to God, here has the sense of purity of living.
  • It is essential to recognize that Paul does not teach that Christians are slaves to Sin. His point is exactly the opposite. Believers are slaves to righteousness, not slaves to Sin. They "used to be" slaves to Sin (6:19). They "were" (6:20) but are no longer. So Paul is dramatizing a person who has not yet reached that point in 7:14.
  • 6:23. A verse on the Roman Road. The first verse on this explanation of how to become a Christian was 3:23, "all have sinned." 6:23 tells the implication of that fact: "The wages of sin is death." It also gives hope: "The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
I. Introduction
1. Romans 1:1-15

II.1 Who is Justified?
II.1.1 Humanity's Problem
2. Romans 1:16-17
3. Romans 1:18-32
4. Romans 2:1-3:20

II.1.2 God's Solution
5. Romans 3:21-31
6. Romans 4:1-5:11

Monday, December 04, 2017

10. Concentrated Romans (12:1-13:14)

See bottom for the entire series.
Romans 12:1-13:14
I. The General Statement (12:1-2)
  • Romans 12 begins the second major section of Romans. If 1:16-11:36 was the expositional, theological, "teaching" section, 12:1-15:33 is the exhortation, "practical," "preaching" section. It is the application to the truths of the first part. The "therefore" indicates that the application that follows is the logical consequence of the arguments in the preceding chapters.
  • Additionally, 12:1-2 are a general statement that plays itself out in the specifics of the rest of 12:1-15:22.
  • 12:1. Paul urges the audience to "present your bodies as a living sacrifice." This evokes the language of Romans 6 where Paul said that they should present their bodies as instruments of righteousness leading to holiness (6:19). The four chapters that follow tell us what that looks like.
  • For Wesleyans, 12:1-2 are a classic preaching text on entire sanctification. The living sacrifice is "holy" belongs it belongs to God and is thus sanctified when God accepts the sacrifice. The body is presented in 12:1, the mind in 12:2.
  • Our living bodies on the altar is a pleasing sacrifice to God. It is "appropriate worship" (logike latreia).
  • 12.2 Accordingly, our minds are not conformed to worldly ways of thinking but are transformed and renewed. Now we understand the will of God and live it. His will is "good and pleasing and perfect."
  • We should not think of the mind here in academic terms. This is not about ideas. This is about life-wisdom. What is a transformed mind? It is a mind that thinks in the terms of Romans 12-15. It is, more than anything else, a love-mindedness. 
  • Romans 13:8-10 generalizes this whole section as well. Love toward one's neighbor is the heart of what it means to have a transformed mind. We see this played out throughout this section.
B. Transformed Relationships (12:3-13:14)
1. ... with one another (12:3-21)
  • 12:3-8 gives us the first set of attitudes in transformed thinking. This is one of the three key passages on spiritual gifts/spiritual roles in the church (along with 1 Cor. 12 and Eph. 4).
  • We should not think more highly of ourselves than others. This statement reminds us of Philippians 2:1-4.
  • 12:4-5. We think especially of 1 Corinthians 12 in this verse. A local church--or perhaps a collection of house churches in the case of Rome--is one body with several members.
  • 12:6-8. Paul mentions several types of functions in the church: prophecy, serving (diakonia), teaching, exhorting, giving, leading, and showing mercy. Notice that he does not mention tongues, which might suggest that it was an issue particular to the Corinthian church.
  • It is not a complete list, nor are the other lists complete or the collection all three complete. Each serves a purpose for its particular audience. Paul may not mention apostles because there were no witnesses of Christ's resurrection at Rome at this time (however, see chapter 16 discussion).
  • 12:9-21. This collection of individual exhortations is reminiscent of the Sermon on the Mount at some points. Is Paul showing an awareness of Jesus tradition here?
  • Again, believers are to put others above themselves (12:10). They are to show hospitality, a key virtue in an ancient world where traveling was often dangerous (12:13). 
  • Christians are not to be conceited or proud (12:16). We are to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn (12:15), which avoids the evil eye of envy.
  • Leave justice to God. He will repay the wicked, so we do not have to worry about it (12:19). By contrast, we are to bless those who persecute us (12:14). We are not to repay evil with evil (12:17). This will "heap coals of fire on their heads" (12:20). This quote from Proverbs 25:22 (cf. also Ps. 140:10) is hard to figure out. Some have suggested it evokes the flush face of embarrassment. Psalm 140 might suggest it is leaving room for God himself to bring fire down on them.
2. ... with authorities (13:1-7)
  • 13:1-7. This is a classic set of verses that deal with the way we behave in relation to those in authority over us, in particular "political" authorities. The Romans would have obviously thought of the Roman empire and the emperor Nero in particular.
  • There is a sense in which this is a posturing statement. Paul knows that the Romans are often not just in their judgments. Indeed the Romans were far less just than any given Western judicial system today. The Christian Jews of the late 40s had been expelled from Rome. These words surely function in part to let anyone who might read this letter or hear about Paul that Christians are respectable members of the empire.
  • The Old Testament makes it clear that not every leader of a people is just or appointed by God without condition. There are times when God directs the removal of leaders. Certainly that was not an option for anyone to whom Paul might write and, in any case, the Lord would be returning soon, making such thoughts moot.
  • The idea of authority does seem to be intrinsic to human society. In the kingdom, there will be a hierarchy between God and everyone else. At the moment, it would seem that human society functions best with at least some hierarchy of function, although not of individual value.
  • Certainly these verses suggest that believers should be especially circumspect about their attitudes toward those in authority over them.
  • 13:3-4 give some functions of authority, although nothing suggests that these are all such functions. Authorities punish wrongdoing. Yet it is also said that authorities exist "for our good." There is a massive amount of good that governments can do for their people that go beyond punishment. Therefore, it is simply bad interpretation to use these verses to argue against government administered health care or welfare. See Psalm 72.
  • 13:4 implies that Paul accepts capital punishment as a valid punishment for wrongdoing. This does not mean that the church of today cannot contextualize the good news in different ways.
  • 13:6-7. The attempt of some Christians to get out of paying taxes is wholly without biblical support. We also should not think that our taxes today are more of a burden than they were in the ancient world. The Western world is a world of excess revenue. Theirs was a world of subsistence living, like the two-thirds world today.
3. ... in general (13:8-10)
  • As mentioned above, these verses give us the essence of a transformed and renewed mind. Paul sums up all Christian ethics under the principle of loving one's neighbor as oneself.
  • We can thus look back to other statements in Romans and infer this paragraph. The Gentiles who demonstrate the Law written on their hearts (2:14-15) are Gentiles who, because of the Holy Spirit, love their neighbor as themselves. The Law that we affirm even though we are justified by faith (3:31)--it is the law of love. And the righteous requirement of the Law that is fulfilled in us who walk in the Spirit (8:4), it is because we love our neighbor.
  • Paul omits the other part of the great commandment, loving God (Matt. 2:37-38). No doubt he assumes it. Surely he believes that loving your neighbor is a key part of loving God--loving our neighbor is loving God.
  • From Matthew 5:43-48 we round out a biblical ethic by including our enemies as our neighbors. All of God's ethical expectation is found in this principles--love God and love neighbor, which includes one's enemies, and "as yourself" implies a healthy sense of yourself as someone created in God's image.
  • This is a consistent theme of the New Testament. Here, Matthew 22, Mark 12, Galatians 5:14; James 2:8; 1 John 4:7-8.
4. bottom line (13:11-14)
  • "Our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed" (13:11). Again, Paul's understanding of salvation is primarily future oriented. There will be a Day when God's wrath comes and salvation is escaping it.
  • Paul continues to believe that the return of Jesus is imminent.
  • The Romans need to be ready for that return. They need to be living appropriately when Jesus returns. He anticipates a theme in Colossians and Ephesians--clothe yourself with Christ. Do not allow the desires of the flesh to play a role.
  • Augustine was especially convicted by 13:13 because of "sexual immorality." He was living with a mistress and the ethics of his Christian mother convicted him about it. 
  • Other examples of "making provision for the flesh" include drunkenness and carousing, strife and jealousy.
I. Introduction
1. Romans 1:1-15

II.1 Who is Justified?
II.1.1 Humanity's Problem
2. Romans 1:16-17
3. Romans 1:18-32
4. Romans 2:1-3:20

II.1.2 God's Solution
5. Romans 3:21-31
6. Romans 4:1-5:11

II.2 What about Sin?
7. Romans 5:12-6:23
8. Romans 7:1-8:39

II.3 What about Israel?
9. Romans 9-11

Sunday, December 03, 2017

3. Concentrated Romans (1:18-32)

1. Romans 1:1-15
2. Romans 1:16-17

Romans 1:18-32
A. Structure of Romans
  • The book of Romans has two major halves. There is a logical cause-effect relationship between them signaled by the word "therefore" in 12:1. If the first half is true (1:16-11:36), then live the second half way (12:1-15:33).
  • So to be overly simplistic, the first half is the theological half; the second is the practical half. The first half is teaching; the second half is preaching. The first half is doctrine; the second half is application. Probably more accurate to say, the first half is more exposition, the second more exhortation.
  • In the first half, 1:16-17 are the key verses. They are a general statement that plays itself out in specifics in 1:18-11:36.
  • Now with 1:18 we begin in earnest this first half of Romans (1:16-11:36).
  • This first half of Romans consists of three sections. The first asks, "Who is justified?" (1:18-5:11). The second asks, "What about the Jewish Law?" (5:12-8:39). The third asks, "What about Israel?" (9:1-11:36).
  • So 1:18-5:11 deals primarily with the subject of justification. Who is right with God? To be justified is to be declared in right standing with God. You are declared "not guilty." You are declared innocent in the divine court.
  • This first section, "Who is justified?" also consists of three parts. The first establishes the universal problem that both Jew and Gentile have--both have sinned (1:18-3:20). The second reveals the universal solution--the offering of Christ and the possibility of justification by faith (3:21-4:25). The third is a swing section that at least in part concludes this first section (5:1-11).
B. Gentiles have sinned (1:18-32)
  • The general lay out of the first section of Romans is: 1) Gentiles are going to fry (1:18-32), 2) Jews are going to fry too (2:1-29), and 3) all have sinned and are going to fry (3:1-20).
  • It is easy to wonder if the first chapter of Romans is a kind of "sting" operation. He does not mention the Gentiles, but a self-righteous Jew (of course not all Jews were such) would probably enjoy Romans 1 just a little too much. While Paul is saying, "these foolish people did x, y, and z," a particular hypocritical Jew would be saying, "YES! Amen! Those Gentiles are going to fry! Preach it Paul!" But he is reeling such a person in so he can smack them with some bad news in chapter 2.
  • So the sins that Paul selects in Romans 1 are stereotypical Gentile sins--idolatry and sexual immorality. The overlap in content and order between Paul's comments here and the book of Wisdom 13-14 is extensive enough that we probably have to conclude that Paul is drawing from that book. He doesn't mention it or call it scripture, of course. Wisdom is a book in the Apocrypha, in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Old Testament but not the Protestant one.
  • The flow of Romans 1 is: 1) Gentiles turned away from the true God and became idolaters, 2) therefore God abandoned them and they became sexually immoral, 3) this spiraling out of control ended in all sorts of wickedness.
  • 1:18-23. Everyone should know what God is like. "The invisible aspects of God are clearly seen since the creation of the world--his power and divinity--so that they are without excuse" (1:20).
  • This verse is one of the key bases for what is called, "natural revelation." It is the idea that "the heavens declare the glory of God" (Ps. 19:1). One should be able to apprehend some things by observing God's creation (Acts 17:26-27). Paul thus indicates that every person is without excuse--everyone should know that God exists.
  • We thus get into some thorny theological questions. Can we come to God without the assistance of the Holy Spirit (Pelagianism)? What about those who have never heard or live in a place where Christ is the enemy--are they without excuse? Different traditions answer these questions differently, gluing passages together in different ways, supposing a different looking iceberg below the surface of the waters.
  • Not all Wesleyans glue the same either. Given the nature of God as love, many Wesleyans want to believe that God "lightens everyone who comes into the world" (John 1:9). By God's "prevenient grace," he turns up the light for everyone at some point to see if they will want more grace. Christ is still the only basis for atonement and reconciliation, but God looks for heart movement, not head movement. Hearing the gospel and prayer increase exponentially the spiritual grace that moves toward God but, because of free will, cannot force a person to be saved. This scenario, while speculative, makes better sense of the love of God than, say, the Calvinist scenario, which supposes that we are all damned already and so God is not unjust to let the majority of the world go to hell without ever having any chance whatsoever.
  • Idolatry is thus the reduction of God to something as ridiculous as an idol shaped like a reptile. Gentiles who thought themselves wise thus turned out to be fools to minimize God in this way. Of course there are many subtle ways to minimize God (e.g., American fundamentalism).
  • 1:24-27. "God handed them over." There is a significant strand of Romans interpretation that highlights the connection between God's wrath and him letting humanity spiral out of control. That is to say, part of God's wrath is him simply letting us experience the consequences of our own turning from him. We see a hint of this idea in 1:27 where homosexual acts are said to contain within themselves their own punishment. It would be highly anachronistic to say this is AIDS or some sexually transmitted disease. Paul seems to be saying that the shame of the act itself is a punishment. However, it would seem that Paul's sense of God's wrath is bigger than merely experiencing the consequences of our rebellion.
  • This passage is the central biblical text in relation to homosexual acts. There are at least six others. The Sodom and Gomorrah story in Genesis 19 proposed the rape of male angels by men (see also Judges 19). Jude 7 refers to this as a "going after different flesh." Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 prohibit a male-male sex act as part of the holiness codes of Israel. 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 include active and passive homosexual acts in a list of either sinful individuals or practices.
  • Paul does not give any context for such acts. We do not know for certain, for example, if the malakoi of 1 Corinthians 6:9 are male prostitutes (passive side of the act). We do not know if he pictures an activity done at a pagan temple (which would fit the flow of thought from idolatry to sexual immorality). His audiences presumably knew exactly what he was talking about.
  • All these passages focus on sexual acts. The idea of a fixed sexual orientation that is not heterosexual is a modern concept. The Bible only discusses people who engage in an activity and thus these passages do not condemn individuals who have a particular temptation that is not acted upon mentally or physically. This is the only biblical passage that mentions female homosexual acts.
  • Paul's broader point is that the Gentiles stand under God's judgment because they have not recognized God for who he truly is, thus they have devolved into idolatry and sexual immorality. This is his sting operation. A hypocritical Jew or conservative Gentile believer who is taking pleasure in this recounting of the wickedness of the Gentile is about to have the tables turned on him or her.
  • 1:28-32. This is the climax of the chapter. As the Gentiles spiral out of control for not glorifying God as God, Paul goes on to list more behaviors on which God's wrath falls: envy, murder, strife, gossip, slanderers, disobedience to parents, a lack of love and mercy. 
  • So Gentiles have sinned and are going to fry.